Category Archives: Environment

Surviving Hurricane Irma: Part II

I’ve never felt so lucky.

When I woke up early Monday morning, I was surprised the storm had already passed. I was also surprised I managed to sleep through the worst of it. After anxiously awaiting what was being predicted to be the worst hurricane ever recorded, I guess my nerves were so shot they just needed sleep. Looking outside our friends’ apartment, you almost wouldn’t know a hurricane had just blown through. Sure, there was tree debris scattered about, but no trees down, no power lines down, no damage to any buildings as far as I could see. Their building hadn’t even lost power, which I was expecting at the height of the storm, around 1-2 am. They were high enough above sea level to experience no flooding, and protected enough to experience minimal damage from the winds.

But I knew my sleepy little town of Tarpon Springs would not be so easily missed. And I was right. Although my coworker called ahead to let me know he drove by my house and it looked unscathed, I really had no idea what I was going home to. The 40-minute drive home seemed to take forever; lights were out at major intersections and no one seemed to understand the rule of “treat it like a 4-way stop.” I anticipated accidents the whole way home. Huge trees were down all over the place; pockets of rain had pooled in various locations along the roadside. If things were this bad inland, I could only imagine how bad they were near the bayou where I lived. I pictured streets flooded up to front doors, and trees blown over, crushing anything in their path. I was hoping for the best and expecting the worst.

When we drove by our street, my heart definitely started pounding. Both entrances to our street were blocked off, so we couldn’t get close enough to see what was really going on. All we could see were trees everywhere, and no sign of our house. It was tucked back behind the trees, but we really couldn’t tell if it had been hit or not. When we pulled up and got out, the power company was already there. We spoke to one of the crew members; he told us they were securing the live wires and making it safe for the city to come back and clean things up (which they haven’t, but my neighbors got it done with their chainsaw; gotta love those reckless Floridians). We gave them a few hours, and then we drove back over and skirted our way through the debris to our front door. IMG_0665

I was in shock. Not one, but two trees had fallen from our yard. The one on the right I expected, because it was dead and constantly dropped branches on my car during any light wind or rain storm, so there was no way a hurricane wasn’t taking it out. But the beast of a tree on the left of our house, that thing was so solid I never would have pictured it coming down. Amidst all this disaster, our house was untouched. I couldn’t believe it. Not one branch hit the roof on its way down. There was no flooding in our house, no water damage that we would see. After witnessing accounts of homes destroyed on Irma’s path inland, I expected much more damage than this. I don’t know how we got so lucky, but I have never felt more grateful in all my life. I just wish the storm had instead taken out that annoying mango tree I hate so much (it’s stubbornly still standing, the only tree remaining in our front yard, the jerk).

But really, I know how lucky we got with our house, and our town, and ourselves. I know this storm should have been much worse; I know the damage should have been much worse. The most we got was some trees down and our power knocked out. We won’t go home until our A/C is back on and our fridge works again, but at least we have a home to return to. I know the power companies are working tirelessly to restore as many homes to normalcy as quickly as they can. Of course I would like mine to come back fast, but I can understand if it’s going to take awhile. Because damn, did we dodge a huge bullet.

I have no intentions of leaving Florida any time soon, but if the next hurricane that rolls up like this could wait another 50+ years or so, I’d appreciate it.

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Surviving Hurricane Irma: Part I

I don’t even know where to start with this one.

Even though there have been some serious gaps in my writing over the years (like, say, the last 8 months or so especially), I’ve never in my whole life of being a writer had this much difficulty getting words out on the page. I stumble and trip over my spoken words on a daily basis (my students probably question my teaching abilities, but hey, remember that time I scored the highest 6th grade ELA state test scores? Yeah, that’s what I thought), but when you put pen & paper in front of me, or a computer screen in this case, I usually have a pretty easy time of eloquently flowing my thoughts from my brain into concrete words and phrases. But I don’t quite know what to say at the moment.

In the eleven years I’ve lived in Florida, and made the Sunshine State my home, I’ve never had to experience anything like this. And it hasn’t even hit us yet. I’ve been lucky living here so far; most hurricanes sweep right past the Tampa Bay area, because we are protected in this little alcove off the western coast of the state that I swear is like a magical bubble that simply repels all horrible weather. Sure, we get some pretty severe rain and flooding during the summer months of our annual “hurricane season,” and yeah, we are considered the lightning capital of North America, so we get some pretty intense storms, but that is just typical South Florida weather that everyone who lives here endures. No one bats an eye at that type of weather because it comes and goes so often it isn’t worth fussing over. Even hurricanes that roll through usually drop to tropical storm conditions by the time sweet ‘ole Tampa gets the runoff. So this. Hurricane Irma. This is some next-level, zombie-apocalypse shit that I honestly never thought I would see. And it’s kind of terrifying.

When Harvey hit Houston, I was scared for my cousin who lives there. I was saddened when I saw the damage and destruction the storm caused. But I didn’t really understand the severity of the situation because seeing something on the internet, watching news clips of what it’s like isn’t the same as experiencing it for yourself. So while I tried to imagine what those people were going through (and still are, trying to repair their towns and salvage what remains of their homes), I can’t say I know what it feels like. Until now.

Unlike many Floridians across the peninsula, Kevin and I decided not to evacuate the IMG_0634state. We do live in the highest evacuation zone for flooding, so we did peace out, but we simply drove inland to our friends’ who live in higher ground, outside of any evac zones. I made the last minute decision to board up our house, because I just couldn’t stand the idea of doing nothing and then leaving our home to fend for itself. While we don’t own it, I would very much like to have something to return to when this is all said and done. My mom and stepdad helped us buy the wood and hastily install it; we did the same for their home. Schools were closed at this point, so I had plenty of time on my hands over the last several days to stock up, and prepare the house, and slowly start to panic and let the anxiety creep in. We planned to leave Sunday morning for Lutz, but that panic crept in further, and I made Kevin haul ass out of there Saturday night. While I feel better knowing we are tucked away from the storm surge that is sure to wash away our town, the anxiety and nervousness continues to eat away slowly at me. Nothing like having a week to wait for a day’s worth of torrential downpour and gale force winds. Hurry up, Irma, let’s get this over with.

As of now, we are safe. The wind has picked up, and it’s raining like any summer downpour. But I know it will get worse. The worst of it will hit late tonight when most people are sound asleep, but I know we won’t be. Or at least, I won’t be. I brought a stack of books to distract me, but even my favorite pastime can’t keep my mind of this monster coming for us. Without knowing what will truly happen, I can only picture the worst case scenario. I can only picture our house being washed away from the 10-foot storm surge. Or at the very least, being completely water-logged once we return. If we can return. The Pinellas County sheriff has closed the county, permitting no one to return to their homes until they’ve completely assessed all damage and give the go-ahead. This makes me believe they anticipate the worst. The uncertainty and waiting will surely kill me before the wind and floods do, that’s for sure.

I know homes can be rebuilt. I know personal effects can be replaced, and what is most important is being alive. I know I am better off than others; the devastation in the islands is terrifying and I couldn’t imagine living through that. I won’t pretend this is the worst thing that could ever happen, but I won’t minimize my fears and anxieties. I know my family is all safe at the moment, but being separated is hard. I hope Frank the cat makes it, and I hope we made the right decision by letting him fend for himself. There are so many what ifs right now, I just wish I had the capacity to tune it all out like everyone around me is seeming to do.

This blog has always been my outlet, even when I’ve neglected to write, so just getting this out on the page makes me feel a tiny bit better. If you’re going through this with me, comment and tell me what you’re doing to keep your sanity during this waiting game. If you aren’t in full-on survival mode, please keep this state in your thoughts and hope we make it out the other side. There may be a Part II, or Part III, depending on power/wifi capabilities in the next 24-48 hours, and depending on my ability to function like a normal human with actual thoughts and expressions other than “WHAT THE F*CK.”

At least Felix seems to be enjoying her new home away from home.

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Trashy with a twist

For some people, living in third world countries, garbage is reality. Living among heaps of trash is part of life and you just become used to it, because there’s nothing to be done about it and nowhere else for all the junk to go. But I’m lucky enough to live in a country that has developed better ways to reduce, reuse and recycle that garbage to make  our country, our home, a little cleaner and a better place to live. So why do people insist on littering? Why do we continue to pollute the world we live in when we have alternatives? I’ve never understood it and I guess I never will, because I’ve always had the mentality that the Earth and the environment is a precious gift we’ve been given, not one to be taken for granted and one to be protected and cherished.

Side note: I once got my sister, her ex and I into a spot of trouble because of my passion to protect the environment. We were at a stoplight and the guy in the truck next to us rolled his window down, stuck his arm out and dropped a huge wad of paper onto the road. I called him an asshole out loud, but because my window was down, he heard us. He then proceeded to engage us in a “high-speed chase,” tailing us for about 20 minutes to try and scare us, acting like he was going to ram us. We eventually dodged him, but my sister was pretty shook up (having been the one driving) and her ex was not thrilled with me. I was most pleased with myself for having called this man out on his horrible behavior, and only hope my words serve him well in his future actions. Highly doubtful.

We found this "no dumping" sign by all the trash we collected. How appropriate.

We found this “no dumping” sign by all the trash we collected. How appropriate.

Back to the point, people are going to litter regardless of what I say or do to try and convince them not to, so it’s up to me and others like me to protect the environment (or so I’ve always believed). So I (finally) started a volunteer group with some friends and family to meet locally and pick up trash in the community. Today was the “inaugural” cleanup and although it was a very small group of us, it was still more than just me out there on the side of the road picking up trash like I used to do for fun. In my spare time. Because I have no life.

Anyway, I’m super excited I have friends and family who not only support my undying love for all things eco, but who get out there with me and share the same passion. It’s a truly great feeling to give back, even in small ways. It doesn’t have to be a global takedown (although I’m working on that one next); putting in any effort, big or small, is all it takes. And it feels good to do good.

And if I never see another cigarette butt again in my life, I will be all too thankful. Really, people, most cars- scratch that, ALL CARS- come equipped with an ash tray. It’s pretty standard. And they don’t put it there for you to keep change in (although that’s what I recommend using it for if you’re a nonsmoker, like me- very useful). And I don’t want to hear any crap about how putting the cig out in your car’s ash tray makes your car dirty and smelly. You should have thought about that before you chose to light up. The environment is not your personal ash tray, so stop acting like it. End rant.

In what ways do you and your friends/family give back to the environment? How can we continue to make a difference, even on a small scale?

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Restoration of Stevenson Creek to resume

CLEARWATER, Fla., Oct. 18 — T.J. Thompson is eager for work to resume.

Thompson has lived on the north bank of Stevenson Creek since 2000 and is hopeful a project to remove muck from the water could help reduce the smell of the polluted water body.

The local water treatment plant responsible for the contamination.

But the contamination hasn’t kept him from taking his boat out on the water, even if the tides sometimes do.

“We have a small window when we can get out,” Thompson said.

Soon though, Thompson and others who live near the creek, could enjoy fishing, boating and watching wildlife. After a prolonged standstill, the Stevenson Creek Aquatic Restoration is scheduled to resume work this month.

The Army Corps of Engineers has awarded the contract to remove 105,000 cubic yards of muck and sediment to Paul Howard Construction Company after firing the initial contractor earlier in the year.

“The goal is to dredge the lower reaches of Stevenson Creek,” said Amanda Ellison a spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers. “Some sandy dredged materials will be returned to the creek to create shoreline mangrove areas, and [the] dredged muck will be trucked to an offsite disposal area.”

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